Creative Space

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SOCO has come into its own as one of Southern California’s pre-eminent hubs for interior design, unique boutiques and artisAnal eateries.

by Suzette Lipscomb

In 2009, when Scott Burnham and his team at Burnham-Ward Properties conceived of a community-based creative center rooted in all shades of green, little did they know it would evolve into an iconic retail and dining destination drawing tenants from across the nation and world.

Now that South Coast Collection, or SOCO, and the OC Mix have evolved into a carefully curated collection of design stores, restaurants, fashion boutiques and showrooms, Burnham, chairman of the board and CEO of Burnham USA, and his partners are increasingly focused “on ensuring the visitor experience is unique and special. To do this, we continue to artfully curate a unique mix of tenants and experiences that take into account our guests’ interests and passions, as well as cast the net forward and look toward the future of Costa Mesa as a destination,” Burnham says.

Trendy new openings are cementing SOCO as an innovative design and culinary destination that now draws visitors from Los Angeles to Costa Mesa, instead of the other way around. And, unique to SOCO, several formerly “trade only” showrooms are now available to the public. Increasingly, national, international and Los Angeles-based tenants have recognized the sophistication and demand of the Orange County audience. “They crave an experience and a discovery process that is dynamic, fun and has an element of surprise,” Burnham says. “Each of our hand-selected tenants offer more than best-in-class merchandise and service. They offer unique experiences that bring their products to life, and that you can’t find anywhere else. As a result, we are not only appealing to the OC audience, but to customers from throughout Southern California, the nation and the world,” he adds.

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Experiential Shopping

The underlying thread of native California, drought-tolerant landscaping rich with olive trees and walls of succulents, sustainable resources and reclaimed woods, as well as environmentally conscious tenant choices, “have always been important at SOCO,” Burnham explains. Buildings have been remodeled with lofty ceilings, exposed halogen lighting, polished concrete and reclaimed wooden floors, “creating a sustainable environment that appeals to tenants and customers alike.” Early on, Burnham and his team committed to green practices by constructing an on-site water tower that redistributes 2,000 gallons of water a day throughout the center.

Buildings have been remodeled  with lofty ceilings, exposed halogen  lighting, polished concrete and  reclaimed wooden floors, “creating a  sustainable environment that appeals  to tenants and customers alike.”

Experiences for shoppers range from indulging artistic impulses at the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity to walking away with a new do from Paul Mitchell The School, partaking in cooking demonstrations or classes at Surfas Culinary District or the demonstration kitchen at Pirch, enjoying a perfectly crafted cappuccino from Portola Coffee Lab, savoring a curated platter from The Cheese Shop on a sunny outdoor patio, attending design lectures and instruction in multiple showrooms, or picking up some organic veggies from the Saturday farmers market.

With its ease of access directly off the 405 freeway, ample parking and an open, airy feel, chefs like Noah Blom have blossomed with SOCO as a canvas, right alongside some huge names in design. Here you can design your fantasy mosaic floors at Famosa, The Surface Studio, shop for an iconic, free-form modular mah jong sofa from Missoni Home, Jean Paul Gaultier or Sonia Rykiel Maison at Roche Bobois, among other decorative pieces, or select the perfect gray, taupe or creamy white paint at Farrow & Ball. You can also visit one of Cisco Home’s six locations throughout California, where they offer made-in-LA goods, with an international flair.

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Culinary wonders

Restaurants creating new and enticing culinary experiences that have opened in the past few years include Restaurant Marin and The Guild Club, owned and helmed by ARC’s visionary Executive Chef Noah von Blom and his wife, Restaurant Marin’s namesake and ARC Managing Partner, Marin Horwath von Blom, which serves up a delectable breakfast, lunch and dinner menu of exquisite food paired with house-made craft cocktails. The Guild Club’s reservation-only den, tucked in the rear of Restaurant Marin, will pair a curated collection of wine and beer with a chef’s inspired dinner menu. 

Also unique to SOCO is the award-winning Taco Maria. Named a James Beard Award semifinalist this year for Best Chef: West, was Taco María chef Carlos Salgado, who opened his restaurant at SOCO in 2013. Applying the techniques and values he learned in Michelin-starred restaurants, Salgado has assembled a menu that represents Mexican food by utilizing real corn at the foundation. The restaurant’s core philosophy is a Mexican saying: Sin maíz, no hay país, which means: “Without corn, there is no country.” Recognizing the importance of corn in evoking Mexican cuisine, Salgado processes all of Taco María’s “masa” (Spanish for dough) products in house from heirloom varieties of corn grown by small family farms in Mexico.

Health enthusiasts will revel in the organic broth bar (featuring toppings like cultured butter, turmeric, and miso) as well as fermented vegetables, yogurts and chef-driven kombucha flavors at Farm & Culture Co., inside The OC Mix. The artisanal eatery is the first kombucha and broth bar in Orange County and is located next to Shuck Oyster Bar. The bottled goods and probiotic-rich organic and raw foods are available to enjoy inside the store as well as to-go.

If coffee is your vice, Portola’s Theorem, a walk-up bar where select baristas are given the creative freedom to develop personalized coffee menus, offers its cocktail-inspired drinks such as the Coffee Sour, an Old-Fashioned prepared with slow-drip cold-brewed coffee that’s barrel-aged in oak for six months.

With SOCO, Burnham has created a lifestyle center model for the future committed “to creating community, building small businesses, and keeping our guests happy with events and entertainment,” he says. “We are increasingly growing beyond a local or regional center to attract visitors from across the nation and world.” (southcoastcollection.com)

-PCM